History of abu musa and the tunbs
The British Government's announcement in January 1968 of its decision of terminating Pax-Britannica in the Persian Gulf caused a sense of urgency for closer cooperation among regional states. Settlement of territorial and boundary differences thus, became a necessity, especially in the offshore areas where exploitation of new oilfields was expanding rapidly.
Iran had in 1965 negotiated with Britain for delimitation of maritime areas, which established the median line of the sea as a principle upon which the continental shelf between Iran and her Arab neighbours was to be divided. It was on the basis of this principle that the subsequent maritime delimitation agreements were achieved. In anticipation of existence of oil structures across maritime boundaries, Iran decided to enforce a provision in her continental shelf agreements with the states on the opposite side preventing inappropriate exploitation of such structures. According to this provision, which appears in all continental shelf boundary agreements, if a petroleum structure extends across the boundary and could be exploited from the other side, there should be no sub-surface well completion within 125 metres of the boundary without the mutual agreement of the two parties. The area of drilling prohibition is 500 metres with Saudi Arabia.
Ignoring United Arab Emirates' internal boundaries, the eight states littoral to the Persian Gulf need, at least, sixteen continental shelf boundaries among them. Of these only seven have been negotiated of which four are related to Iran. Two of the most complicated border issues settled in this period were those of late 1968 between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the 1971 settlement between Iran and Sharjah on Abu Musa Island. These were followed by a number of other settlements such as: continental-shelf boundary division of 1970 between Iran and Qatar; 1972 between Iran and Bahrain; 1975 between Iran and Oman and the river and inland boundary settlement between Iran and Iraq in that same year. Maritime boundaries between Iran and Kuwait, at the head of the Persian Gulf, was covered by a draft agreement between the two sides which came about in 1962, but it is not in force because of Iraq's continued territorial disputes with Iran and Kuwait. In all, maritime boundaries in two areas of the Persian Gulf have not been settled. These are the north-west areas between Iran, Kuwait, and Iraq and the area between Iran and UAE because of uncertainties concerning the two Tunbs and Abu Musa islands.
The issue of the two Tunbs and Abu Musa islands: In late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the British occupied a number of Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf, either directly or through assumed sovereignty for the so-called Trucial Emirates. These included Tunbs and Abu Musa as well as Qeshm, Hengam and Sirri islands. A War Office map, presented by the British Minister in Tehran to the Shah in 1888 confirmed all these islands, as Iranian owned. Iran's case was further strengthened with the publication in 1892 of Lord Curzon's Persia and the Persian Question in which the map also showed the islands as Iranian territory.
British fear of a Russian encroachment in the Persian Gulf intensified at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1902 a secret meeting at the British Foreign Office decided that the strategic islands at or near the Strait of Hormuz should be occupied. This decision was communicated to British political administrators in India and the Persian Gulf in a memorandum dated July 14th 1902. A year later the government of India sanctioned occupation of the islands of Tunb and Abu Musa in the name of the Sheikh of Sharjah. Iran was on the brink of civil war and the authority of the central government was at its weakest. It took the Iranians about one year to realise what had happened. During his tour of southern ports and islands in April 1904, Director of Iranian Customs found out that the Iranian flag was replaced in Tunb and Abu Musa by the flag of the Sheikh of Sharjah. He lowered that flag and ordered the Iranian flag to be re-hoisted. He also commissioned two armed guards at Abu Musa. The Iranian flag was lowered again and the two sides decided to maintain status quo pending further negotiations.
Meanwhile, Iran continued struggles for the recovery of its islands as Iranian customs office wrote to the government in July 1927, demanding action against illegal trade by establishing observation posts on the three islands. A small fleet of Iranian navy was sent to recover Abu Musa and the two Tunbs and to put an end to the problem there. The Anglo-Iranian Negociations of 1928:
When Iran prepared in 1928 to take her territorial dispute with Britain to the League of Nations, the British agreed to negotiate the status of the Tunbs, Abu Musa and Sirri islands. These negotiations began in January 1929 and
continued until mid-spring 1929 without much progress. Baldwin's Conservative government was replaced in May that year by a Labour government, and Arthur Henderson replaced Chamberlain as Foreign Secretary. Henderson showed a more protective line towards Britain's colonial role in the Persian Gulf and brought Clive's negotiations with the Iranians on the issue of the Tunbs and Abu Musa to an abrupt end. This led the Iranians to try to recover the island in the 1930s through a series of actions. Sheikh of Ras al-kheimah returns the Tunb Island: In 1934 Governor of Bandar Abbas and other Iranian officials visited Greater Tunb. This visit was the result of a secret Iranian arrangement with the Sheikh of Ras al-Kheimah according to which the Sheikh lowered his flag in Greater Tunb and the Iranian flag was hoisted instead.
Earlier, an Iranian warship in Tunb's territorial waters seized a Trucial Coast dhow. These activities attracted the attention of the British who vigorously protested against what was going on in that island. The Iranian government was also orally informed that the British Government would as a last resort protect the interests of the Trucial Sheikhs by force. They intervened at the end of this episode and reversed that development. Further Developments:
When, at the end at the end of 1948, the Iranians expressed a wish to place administrative offices on Tunb and Abu Musa, the British ignored it. In 1949 there were rumours, first that Iran was preparing to refer the case to the United Nations, later that they intended to occupy the islands by force. The Iranian government subsequently received a note from the British Embassy in Tehran reminding them of -clear attitude - of the British Government in that respect. The Iranians in return erected a Flagstaff on Lesser Tunb in August that year, which the Royal Navy promptly removed.
Iran's protests and actions for the recovery of these islands continued until the British began withdrawing from the region. The issue however, was settled through negotiations that lasted throughout the year 1971 between Iran and Britain the latter acting on behalf of its protectorate emirates. This was the outcome of about 68 years of Iranian protests and demands for the return of the islands. Unlike claims by some sources, this was not an occupation but a negotiated settlement. Otherwise the British at least should have issued a statement of protest against the signing of the MoU between Iran and their protectorate Emirate of Sharjah concerning status of Abu Musa island and against Iran's seizure of the two Tunbs. Renewal of Claims on the islands: Iranian authorities were reported in April 1992 to have prevented a group of non-nationals from Sharjah from entering Abu Musa. The High Council of the UAE met on May 12th to discuss the issue and agreed that commitments of each member states before 1971 were to be treated as commitments of the Union as a whole.
History of the Persian Gulf
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